In another lifetime, singer-songwriter Ross Cooper rode broncs in the rodeo, the voltage of each horse’s buck electrifying some daredevil desire in his bones. Cooper grew up south of Lubbock, Texas, where he gained his start in the rodeo, leading to a college scholarship that eventually took him all the way to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Ultimately, being a real-life cowboy wasn’t the path Cooper wanted to tread. He’s a storyteller at heart, one who found the call of music far more potent than his time on broncs - all thanks to his songwriter mother and an affinity for legendary truthtellers like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.
That doesn’t mean in trading his saddle for a guitar that he’s left his former world behind entirely, though. Cooper frames his song ‘Chasing Old Highs’ from the perspective of a rodeo champion, one who can’t keep up with the physical demands of the sport. He recorded a special acoustic version with his dog Jack sitting by his side – well, at least through the first verse. Pups buck to their own time, too. Watch below.
‘Chasing Old Highs’ is the title-track of Cooper’s new album, which is out now. Across 11 tracks, he creates warm Western country, spinning stories of cowboy movies, that magic city called New Orleans, the flatlands of Texas and the importance of finding your own path in life – even if it’s on your own time. On his third album, Cooper sounds confident and comfortable delivering songs that oscillate between honky-tonk and cowboy campfire yarns.
Now based in Nashville, Cooper opened up about his influences, which might surprise you, as well as who he’d most like to collaborate with – hint it’s another prominent storyteller – and what comes next for him now that he's able to get back on the road.
Where are you from and how has that influenced the type of artist you are?
I’m from Lubbock, Texas. It’s about five hours west of Dallas and two hours south of Amarillo. I’d say it’s one of the biggest things that’s influenced me as an artist. The way west Texans talk, act, the connection to the land…all of it. Not to mention Lubbock has birthed some musical pioneers. There’s something special about it. I owe a lot to Lubbock. It’s given me a life of stories.
Speaking of influences, what were you listening to growing up?
In the beginning, I listened to what my parents listened to: My dad listened to George Strait, ZZ Top and The Mavericks, and my mom was really into blues. I got a little older and started discovering songwriters like Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. Then I followed that thread and found Guy Clark, Terry Allen, Townes Van Zandt, etc. But I dug all kinds of music. I remember wearing out bands like Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, Devendra Banhart, The Strokes and Band of Horses.
Did you ever want to do something other than music?
I rodeo’d professionally until I moved to Nashville. In a lot of ways, that feels like a lifetime ago. I can’t imagine doing anything else now. It was always music.
Are you more creative when you’re happy or when you’re sad?
I’m more creative when I’m motivated. Sometimes sadness fuels inspiration, and sometimes happiness does. It’s not one without the other. I used to think I had to be sad to write my favorite songs, and I’m so glad that I was wrong.
What drives you the most?
Writing better songs and putting out better albums. Being proud of what I create and secure in my art. It’s easy to compare yourself to other artists, but it’s unfair to use someone else’s trajectory as your own metric of success. At the root of it, I want to be a good writer and a good person.
In general which comes first for you, the title or the song?
Both. It varies. There’s no rhyme or reason. I keep a journal full of titles and ideas, but some of my favorite songs have been the ones that have fallen into my lap and didn’t take long to write.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
I’d love to write with Hayes Carll. Man, he can write. I think I’d learn a lot.
Tour, record, repeat. I feel like with the light glimmering at the end of the tunnel, we can finally get back to work. Looking forward to every second.
Ross Cooper's third album, Chasing Old Highs, is out now. Cooper recorded a special acoustic version of the song for Holler - you can watch above.